On the Pirates possibly demoting Gerrit Cole ...

USA TODAY Sports

A primer for the Pirates, who might demote Gerrit Cole when everyone else in the rotation is healthy again.

Things I refuse to believe, Part I:

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday on his radio show that it makes "smart business sense" to move Cole to Class AAA Indianapolis in order to protect starting pitching depth when A.J. Burnett (calf) and Wandy Rodriguez (forearm) return from the disabled list.

Nope. Nope nope nope nope. Nope.

Huntington said the Pirates would not move Cole back to Indianapolis just to protect against Super 2 status, which could cost the team millions in arbitration in a couple of years. But by moving Cole back to Indianapolis, even if only for a couple of weeks, he will be much more likely to avoid Super 2 status.

Nope. Nope nope nope nope. Nope.

Charlie Morton will …

Nope. Nope nope nope nope. Nope.

As Brian over at Raise the Jolly Roger notes, there's still some time to have this debate. A.J. Burnett hasn't even made a rehab start yet, so the Pirates don't have to do anything tomorrow.

But that's no fun. I want to complain now. Which leads us to the So You Want To Demote Gerrit Cole? primer.

Scenario #1: You want to demote Cole so he'll be cheaper in three years

Analysis: You are a horrible person

As I mention every week, the biggest free-agent contract the Pirates have ever signed is Russell Martin for two years, $17 million. They have a decades-long history of letting free agents walk, or for trading players before they reach free agency. When they finally decided to spend money and build around a franchise player -- Andrew McCutchen -- he somehow signed for Edwin Jackson money.

I'm not going to suggest the franchise is Scrooge McDuck-diving into a money vault, but they've never really invested a ton of money in payroll. They don't have huge salary obligations for the future. This is a horribly inopportune time to start worrying about a player's Super 2 status, if it affects their ability to reach the postseason.

If the only reason the Pirates demote Gerrit Cole is because of money and Super 2 stuff, they deserve the impending riots. I'm not crazy when fans decide to spend owners' money, but this is different. If there is such a thing as an ethical obligation to fans -- even if I'm not really sure there is -- a great example would be a historically futile franchise keeping an exciting young player around for a playoff run.

Star-divide

Scenario #2 You want to demote Cole because Charlie Morton is the better pitcher right now

Analysis: You are Charlie Morton's mother

Morton is out of options, and he's still a useful pitcher. The Pirates would have to move him to the bullpen or get rid of him. Neither is a perfect solution. Since coming back from injury, Morton is 1-1 with a 2.81 ERA. He's actually allowed 10 runs in 16 innings, but five of them were unearned.

He's still Charlie Morton.

That is, he's a sinkerballer with imperfect control and a relative inability to strike batters out. Even if you want to separate his career into pre- and post-Halladay-infatuation eras to ignore his 4.98 career ERA, it takes a lot of logical leaps to assume 2011 was a new standard for a healthy Morton instead of an anomaly.

If you think that Morton is as good as he was in 2011, and that injuries in subsequent seasons robbed him of a chance to show off that talent again, you can make the case that he belongs over Gerrit Cole. Okay, so you don't have to be Morton's mother.

When it comes to the 29-year-old pitcher with almost 1,300 professional innings, though, I'll go with the 1,100 innings that suggest otherwise and agree to disagree.

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Scenario #3: You want to demote Gerrit Cole because his strikeout rate hints that there's turbulence ahead, and he's better off honing his craft in the minors

Analysis: Maybe

Cole has faced 74 batters in the majors. He's struck out eight of them, and his 3.93 strikeouts-per-nine-innings mark would be the lowest in the game if he qualified. Lest you think this is a sample-size issue, note that he was having trouble striking out Triple-A hitters, too. Like his brief trial in the majors, it didn't seem to affect his run prevention.

At the risk of being frog-marched away by the Inappropriate Analogy Police, here are some rookie numbers for you:

Year Age ERA G GS IP H HR BB SO ERA+ BB/9 SO/9
2006 23 3.63 30 30 186.0 187 21 60 124 125 2.9 6.0

Where are the strikeouts? If his stuff is so good (100-m.p.h. fastball, sharp breaking ball, good change), why aren't hitters swinging and missing? And then Justin Verlander became the best pitcher in the world.

It's horrible to compare anyone to Verlander, of course, but it's hard not to with Cole. They're the same size, and they had the same draft pedigree. They were both supposed to move quickly through the minors, and they did. They both threw triple-digit fastballs, and they both had advanced command and control for a pitcher just out of college.

And when they both came up, the low strikeout rate was a bit of a concern. Not a huge concern. Just something to keep an eye on. I wish I had some sort of brilliant Grand Unification Theory about 100 m.p.h. fastballs, good command, and hitters focusing on contact more than they would in a typical at-bat, but I don't. I would still put money on a healthy Cole having an above-average strikeout rate in two years.

If the Pirates are worried about that (or his development in general), though, that would be a legitimate reason to use the Charlie Morton they have in reserve.

Star-divide

To recap: For money? Repugnant. For pro-Morton sentiments? Misguided. Out of concern for Cole? Probably misguided as well, though I wouldn't argue too much about it.

But I don't see any way that Gerrit Cole isn't one of the Pirates' five best starting pitchers right now. And if they demote him, they'll need a pretty good explanation. They probably won't have a pretty good explanation.

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